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  • Priory data shows a significant rise in people inquiring about anxiety conditions during Covid
  • Amid relationship, money, work and caring pressures, many are struggling

Priory, the mental healthcare specialists, has seen a 60% spike in people contacting its services for information about treatment for anxiety during Covid.

Between January-October 2021, nearly 5,000 people inquired about private treatment, compared to 3,063 during the same period in 2019.

Priory has helped create a new, free mental health app, My Possible Self, which helps people cope with anxiety.

And we asked some of Priory's experts to talk about the one thing they wished others knew about anxiety:

"Intense anxiety can cause panic attacks which people can mistake for a heart attack"

Dr Niall Campbell is a consultant psychiatrist at the Priory's Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, as well as one of the UK's leading experts on alcohol addiction

"Any junior doctor working in casualty will tell you that every day at least 2 or 3 patients, of all ages, come in, usually thinking they are having a heart attack. Investigations show nothing abnormal, and a panic attack is often diagnosed which can be a great relief in itself, with appropriate therapy is recommended to prevent a recurrence. Some degree of anxiety is an everyday experience for most of us and usually a brief reaction to surprises and stresses. More intense anxiety comes in the form of panic attacks. Sudden overwhelming anxiety episodes (anxiety attacks) are common, and can be very frightening. The good news is they are treatable. The worst thing to do is suffer in silence. Tell your GP. Treatment is hardly ever medication. It is usually cognitive behavioural therapy which is quick, effective and such a relief."

“Anxiety is fear and we’d all benefit from slowing down to take care of our anxieties”

Pamela Roberts is a psychotherapist at Priory’s Woking Hospital

“Anxiety is fear and is a usual human emotion. It’s necessary as part of the fight or flight system that we need for our survival. It’s not necessarily something to be afraid of, but what we do benefit from is slowing down to take care of our anxieties and listening to our needs. It is only toxic when we don’t slow down enough, and it becomes a preoccupation. Then you might want to consider therapy.”

"Anxiety disorders are treatable and, where there are children, it is important to take a whole family approach”

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Priory's Oxford Wellbeing Clinic

"I often see young people's mental health mirroring that of their parents; it is so important that a 'whole family' approach is taken when tackling stress and anxiety. Little changes in a family system can benefit everyone. Anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety, anxiety attackspanic attacks, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are all treatable. The earlier people access help the better, as response to treatment may be quicker. The right therapies, (often cognitive behavioural therapy), plus or minus medication, (depending on how much the illness is impacting the person), can help people recover and stay well within a relatively short period; often it takes only 2-3 months to have people feeling so much better and functioning really well."

"If you comfort eat as a way of coping, find a way of distracting yourself"

Alexia Dempsey is an eating disorders specialist at the Priory's Roehampton Hospital

"In emotional over-eating, we use food as a distraction from negative emotions like anxiety and stress. The foods are often carbohydrate-based and the pleasure we get from them is short-term but then we feel guilty because they are often high in calories, meaning they have an impact on our overall health and appearance.

“So distract yourself from the urge to over eat. Take time to identify your trigger points and habits so you can identify when you are vulnerable. Try some mindfulness, this could be on an app on your phone like My Possible Self, and make sure you are drinking plenty of water because dehydration can often be confused with hunger and you might be eating when you should be drinking water. Sometimes your body just needs fluids. If you don't like plain water, try it with a slice of fresh fruit as a healthy alternative. Find other pleasurable activities - painting your nails, playing sport, take a long bath or a long walk, meet friends and family and try to ride out the urge to eat if that is what you do to distract you from the difficult thoughts you are experiencing."

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